Alien Profile: Ambulaflora

The following article was written by J.L. Avey as an entry to the Alien August competition.

AmbulafloraSpecies: Ambulaflora

Description: Discovered in A.L. 7320, the Ambulaflora are a species of intelligent, transient plants native to the planet that name translates ‘Dirt’. They are a slow-moving species that does nothing fast, thinking included. Their technological advance was sluggish by human standards as their civilization first rose tens of thousands of years ahead of humanity. It did not reach rapid advancement until the information revolution when ambulaflora-built AIs began operating their society.

Their earliest ancestors were very much like the carniferns of Earth. They originated in a part of their world that was, at the time, mineral poor. In order to extract nutrients from their surroundings they turned towards the numerous insects overrunning their world. By the time genus ambulaflora appeared, they developed a rudimentary form of animal husbandry not only to protect pollinators but to secure a supply of nutrients.

Body: They stand one meter in height and superficially resemble stunted palm trees with green trunks. Overall their central structure is bowl shaped, built around a digestion chamber. Rising from the chamber is a stalk half as wide as the body that houses the central nervous system and is topped with six eye stalks. The body sits atop a secondary body from which the legs sprout.

Limbs: Their radial structure gives them six trunk-like limbs that serve as roots during the seedling stage. These slow-moving limbs propel ambulaflora to speeds reaching one hundred meters and hour. For arms, they have six branch-like limbs ascending from their core. These branches not only hold their flowers but are tipped with sticky tendrils that grab passing insects. These arms are surprisingly fast, quicker even than the closing leaves of a venus flytrap. Though not as dexterous or quick as human hands they are more than able to manipulate the ambulaflora’s surroundings.

Color: Overall their bodies are a light green with trunk-like limbs that range from the same green to a light brown. A variety of subspecies, or ‘breeds’ of Ambulaflora exist and are told apart from the color of their flowers which is as varied as fuchsias, roses and other flowering plants on Earth.

Diet: Being plants, they generate sugar and oxygen from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight. Unlike most known plants, they have lost the ability to take root. Thus in order to bring water and nutrients into their bodies, they have to take it into their digestion chamber.

Lifecycle: They require flying insects in order to pollinate each others’ flowers. They tend to use their world’s bee-equivalent as a primary mode of pollination. A symbioses developed between walking plant and flying animal where the ambulaflora protect them from predators and enemies (mostly by consuming them as nutrients) while the bees enable ambulaflora to spread beyond their native range.

When the seeds are ready to sow, ambulaflora move to a communal garden and plant their offspring. Their civilization first arose by the need to not only defend their gardens but to provide reliable supply of water for their offspring. It is one of the few traits ambulaflora and humanity share in common. Both of our civilizations have their roots in diverting water when it runs in excess into storage areas for when it is in short supply.

For the first two years of their lives, they remain rooted in place, depending on gardeners to water them, weed the nursery of unwanted plants and keep destructive insects at bay. Between two and three years of age they metamorphose into mobile plants, developing not only their new legs but also their nervous systems.

Communication: They communicate through pheromones primarily with a capacity for visual communication. They lack any ability to detect sound short of vibrations through the ground. Even those are nothing more than vibrations to these plants. Their scent-based communication gives them the ability to operate as individual or as colonies. The way they transmit and receive pheromones is similar to the way parts of the brain send and receive neurons. In a colony, hundreds or even thousands of ambulaflora operate as a true collective consciousness.

Society: Ambulaflora are a very inquisitive species. Whenever they discover something new, they test it out one everything. Case in point came with their discovery of metal-working. They were quick to apply heat to all types of rocks. That is about the only thing quick concerning the species. Their slow reflexes made sailing difficult and manned (planted?) flight impossible. They developed rocketry before they developed flight. Only with the advent of the AI did they master these skills. Virtually every device on their planet has some degree of artificial intelligence. They allow their machines a level of autonomy no sane human would dare match.

First contact with the ambulaflora involved their AI so heavily that it was assumed their planet was home to a machine civilization, remnants of a long forgotten civilization. All human explorers found in the cities were many small buildings lacking roofs. Even when walking plants were discovered inhabiting the cities and moving about in a purposeful pattern, they were still dismissed. It was not until one colony of ambulaflora approached the humans and began scanning their environmental suits that the explorers paid more attention to the planet’s flora.

Article and artwork by J.L. Avey.

  • Of course plant based aliens are both rare and very difficult to “make”. If these aliens are true plants they have neither an exo- nor an – endo skeleton and no muscle tissue to bear loads (I know spiders and certain crustaceans use hydraulics / pneumatic analogs to move limbs, but they have exoskeletons)
    Any plant tissue that can bear loads (wood) is solid – (Vines and fiber rich plants can sustain static loads but not dynamic loads..And by looking at the art work and description, the load bearing aspect (important part of a tool building society)

    The biggest problem of course is the pheromone communication, as it is neither fast (very slow) even the slightest breeze will make communication upwind impossible. Wind will mix signals from more than one individual making the intended information unreadable.
    Now this ability is raised to ” true collective consciousness” (an ability that destroys all previous efforts to make this alien “real”)
    Imagine 200 ladies with 20 spray bottles of perfume. Each scent means something. They stand in a circle and start communicating. Without wind the “message” will not travel. With wind the message travels in only one direction (down wind) the down wind receivers have no way of sending a message upwind…and the air current will mix the scents the last individual down wind will get it all — mixed–

    But in a child book setting, or a non science based comic book setting it would work, I am certain

    • Paulo R. Mendes

      Well, at least these Ambulaflora are a bit more realistic in design than the Delvians ( from Farscape.

      • I tried to come up with a a plant based Alien years ago, never made them canon or followed up:
        Because I could never make them “real” enough

        • Paulo R. Mendes

          Well, your Madoxxuyrt (what name! 0-0) are far more cool and realistic (they’re symbionts, not “pure sencient plant-like aliens”) than the Ambulaflora or the Delvians…

          • Madoxxuyrt (spoken: Maadookss-kssyuirght)

            Yeah the Delvians are among the most ridiculous “Aliens” in TV/Movie history, especially since Farscape claims to be a Sci Fi show.

            • Paulo R. Mendes

              Personally, I loved Farscape, but… why not use a puppet or even CGI to make a “real” plant-like alien instead of a human actress using makeup?

            • Because an actress with make up costs much less –
              Making a puppet look “real” and especially on camera requires animatronics, expert puppeteers and special sets (locations for the puppet to work) to do this in CGI is almost as expensive and only the very latest advances in CGI make these “Virtual actors” look real enough to pass muster.
              Also with a life actor you have less set up time and can shoot every POV while puppets are very limited in POV (Point of view— where the camera (you) is )

            • Paulo R. Mendes

              Yes, you’re right. But I still would prefer if Za’an (the Delvian priestess) was a more regular humanoid alien instead of a ” alien humanoid sencient plant”. :p

            • Between the original story of a writer and the finished script (the one used for the film) there are hundreds of edits, rewrites and revisions.
              Example: Line in script :Alien shoots Steve with Chem Gun.
              I ask the director: What’s a Chem Gun?
              Director: I have no idea, ask the writer.
              Writer: No idea, sounded cool when I wrote it.
              Director: Whatever you come up with will be the Chem Gun, but make it cool and green. Chem sounds green
              Vanessa: The alien, how does he look like?

              DIrector: I think something in between ET and predator, not to scary, but scary. You know we don’t want a FSK 18 rating.
              Sixty sketches later….Director picked the three “Chem gun” designs and 5 alien designs. –
              I make full size models and sculpts of the Alien..
              Director picks one design for the gun and one for the alien. Writer now fleshes out the story of the alien (character study)
              Production meeting : A bunch of Hollywood nerds, the director, marketing, art director, producers look at tjhe mock ups and decide 10 days before production starts ..they liked the other sketches better and since company X product placement logo is green…we can’t have green associated with the bad guy…make jit purple and we think the alien of sketch 7 looks better.
              5 days before shooting… Hero prop (working close up eChem gun finished…actor who wears the suit (alien) picked…camera tests made…Director decides the liked the original design and the first alien…And he threatens to walk of the project if his artistic vision is not considered. But make the Chem Gun – silver…SF is silver after all..,,,right?

              You see Paulo these decisions are not necessarily made by SF fans or anyone ever reading a single SF book, but by a bunch of “Artists” who make a pirate movie tomorrow, or a horror film the day after. They care about demographics, product tie ins, what was used in another project that “worked” -, what the niece of the third executive producer thinks…no she has no clue but her daddy invested 50 M in the movie and no one dares to say anything except :” Great idea…”
              Far Scape was a low budget production on a third grade cable channel…so don’t expect too much….

            • Paulo R. Mendes

              Yikes! what bummer. I knew that making a TV show or movie were not an easy work, but this is ridiculous! (@ _ @)

            • I think it’s because they initially wanted her to be a bit sexy (she was some kinda sex-priestess wasn’t she?).

        • Great pic though, and it’s not all too different in anatomy from the Ambulaflora.

      • Haha! Yeh, that was silly. Giving her photosynthetic skin is fine, and kinda interesting/fun (“interfun”), but actually calling her a plant was going too far.

        • Paulo R. Mendes

          I agree. But the worst part was see Za’an budding and producing (a very allergic) pollen in the episode “Home in the Remains”. :p

        • But then she should have been naked all the time and would neither need teeth nor a tongue, (neither a nose btw) and of course no bum hole…not that the surface of the skin would be enough….

    • Kirov

      I agree on both points, but isn’t it possible that by plants, the author simply meant they were partly autotrophic? Being of alien biology, they don’t have to adhere to known Earth plant qualities and could even be more like photosynthesizing animals than plants.

      Also, as for pheromones, that’s the same argument I made for the mindswarm. The problem is one of interference and signal combination. Neurons can transmit data without interfering with parallel lines of communication, but that’s not the case for either pheromones or sound waves.

      But overall, I’ve always liked the idea of carnivorous plants. They make for interesting species ideas.

      • Yes but the author drew very distinct parallels to Earth plants. Because plants are a very distinct life form to be classified as plants. Mushrooms (Fungi) and Lichen are not plants. Sea anemones and coral reefs are npt plants but all have very close relation ships.
        So if a life form is declared to be a plant no matter where it grows must meet certain criteria to be classified as such.
        If you come across a life form that does not meet these criteria you have perhaps a hybrid or something completely new, but not a plant.
        I am not criticizing the author, but in a SCIence fiction setting the described life form does not work (none of the plant based sentient life forms in any such setting does including Groot from Marvel.
        And if they are photosynthesizing animals they could be a “Hybrid”

        • So many problems can be solved by adding the suffix “-like”.

          • Yep.
            A cow is a cow no matter if it was born in Kansas or discovered on Venus. The life form “Bovine” is classified and defined.
            But a Cow “like” being could be anything and just having one or two features that makes draw parallels.

            • But are we just nit-picking? Should we just assume he means “plant-like”?

            • Isn’t that the idea of Alien August ?

            • I guess in a way it is.
              I’ve always thought the idea of Alien August was to encourage creativity, but with sci-fi the two things go hand in hand 🙂

            • I thought and I might be wrong,this is your baby after all, but Alien August is a “competition” and not a gallery or show case (which SCI FI ideas is throughout the rest of the year) IMO of course

      • As for the Mindbugs, I still think that vibrations and I know you equate sound and vibrations, could be a viable multi individual communications medium for a collective organism, very slow but possible. Slow as in each “synaptic node” would communicate at the speed of sound not light…so the Mind bugs could have the cognitive ability to analyze events, but not react to fast situations, or maintain memory of it, (as soon as the swarm dissolves it also loses the capability to store complex information over an extended period) and perhaps re-assemble in new swarms and bits of residual info gets re-arranged into new memories that make no sense- thus learning would proof also difficult.

        My Shaill used pheromone communication but it was not suitable for building and maintaining a civilization. (and it was not used in a communal way)

        • Kirov

          Yes, I don’t doubt that the vibrations, or the pheromones, could be used for effective communication, even very advanced coordination in the Mindswarm’s case. I just don’t think either option is viable for a “truly collective consciousness” the same way a human brain is considered a single entity rather than a colony of cells.

    • I was thinking the same; it’s missing any real scientific plausibility, but it would still work great in a children’s sci-fi book!
      Creating a believable intelligent and mobile plant species is really difficult, but it’s still a fun concept to play around with. And all your science will never stop me enjoying Day of the Triffids (which, to be fair, would be a good book even if you removed all the triffids).

      • John Wyndham published his book around 1950 or 51 I think..( I have a first edition at home and check later. ) It was a very “British Story” (IMO) with Wyndham’s known dislike of the Soviet Union as the core of the story (and the bickering of course) But his “plants” weren’t so bad…if you gave it a lot of ..well whatcmacallit-handwavium- but as animal/ plant hybrids of a modern genetic lab.. somehow they might be “explainable”

        But you are right you could replace the Triffids with anything and the story would still work